Governments must invest in water

Governments must invest in water and sanitation - that's the message of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on World Water Day.

World Water Day today (March 22) sees events taking place around the world around the theme ‘Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge’.

The OECD says the event is an opportunity to remind governments that they have a responsibility to provide clean water for the health of their citizens and the environment.

The urban poor are most affected with nearly 828 million people globally living in slums without access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The OECD says that not only is there a moral duty to provide water, but it also makes financial sense.

OECD secretary-general, Angel Gurria, said: “People in developing countries can least afford to treat water-borne disease.

“Governments and the international community need to overcome the annual shortfall of $US 10-30 billion to meet the water and sanitation infrastructure goals implied by the Millennium Development Goals.

“For governments, basic water supply and sanitation services are a good investment, with the savings outstripping costs by seven fold.”

It is not only developing countries that need to invest, says the organisation. Developed countries will need to increase spending to maintain current standards.

The US will have to spend $ 23 billion over each of the next 20 years to maintain water infrastructure at levels which meet health and environmental standards. The UK will need to increase its water spending by 20 to 40% to cope with urgent rehabilitation.

The OECD says that improving water and sanitation would rank higher on the political agenda if people understood the benefits of investing in these services.

It recommends that policy makers, especially those in ministries of finance and economy, develop investment strategies, based on cost-benefit analysis, and implement the polluter-pays and the user-pays principles.

Alison Brown

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